Parasomnia or Nightmares

Parasomnias are disruptive sleep disorder that can occur during arousals from REM sleep or partial from non-REM sleep. Nightmares that occur frequently are a parasomnia dream state event, in which visual sequences unfold that often depict imagery or situations that are particularly disturbing or frightening to the individual experiencing them, and may often come from fears in their own subconscious. Nightmares are disturbing dreams associated with negative feelings, such as anxiety or fear. Nightmares are common. According to The National Sleep Foundation, nightmares begin in childhood and tend to decrease after about age 10. However, some people have them as teens or adults or throughout their lives. Nightmares seem real, often becoming more disturbing as the dream unfolds. But nightmares usually are nothing to worry about. They become a problem if you have them frequently and they cause you to fear going to sleep or keep you from sleeping well.

Parasomnias include nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, and many others. Nightmares are considered a sleep disorder when they occur frequently enough that they disrupt sleep on a regular basis and cause further fear of sleeping. This can lead to sleep deprivation and the formation of other sleep disorders or medical or psychological conditions. Nightmares are similar to a regular dream involving images and sound, but the images often invoke fear or anxiety in the individuals. Nightmares are considered when they cause an immediate awakening from sleep, which usually occurs at the climax, or extreme point of terror. Nightmares are often vividly recalled, and the sense of fear felt during them may continue for some time even after waking.

Nightmares occur largely in the REM, or deep stage of sleep, but may occur in earlier stages in some cases, often in the case of a particularly stressful or traumatic event being on an individual’s mind while lying down. This can lead to entering the dream state directly from sleep. Nightmares are rarely lucid dreams, meaning they are not recognized as dreams by the person experiencing them, which of course leads to the increased level of terror felt by them.

Nightmares are referred to by doctors as parasomnia (symptoms) such as:

  • Your dream occurs near the end of your sleep time
  • You feel scared, anxious, angry, sad, or disgusted as a result of your dream
  • Your dream keeps you from falling back to sleep easily
  • You cannot think clearly upon awakening, and can recall details of your dream


Children’s nightmares content varies with age, typically becoming more complex. While a young child might dream of monsters, and older child might have nightmares about school or difficulties at home.

Nightmares maybe viewed differently in different cultures. For example, in some cultures nightmares are thought to mean that the dreamer is open to physical or spiritual harm. In other cultures, it is believed that the dreams may contain messages from sprits or may forecast the future. These beliefs may lead those with nightmares to use certain practices in an effort to protect themselves. In part 2 we will explore what you eat that can affect your sleeping.